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After Thursday’s 24-11 Raider’s victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Hall of Fame game opened the 2022 NFL Preseason, Saturday was the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Among the latest to ascend to “football heaven” as Marshall Faulk coined it, were Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Tony Boselli, San Francisco 49ers Defensive Lineman Bryant Young, New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Richard Seymour, Green Bay Packers safety Leroy Butler, Raiders wide receiver Cliff Branch, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints linebacker Sam Mills and the league’s first referee induction, Art McNally.
Going from the statue of him in front of Lambeau Field commemorating his invention of the “Lambeau Leap” to his brand new bust in the birthplace of the NFL in Canton, Ohio, Butler kicked off the speeches. He paid tribute to his family, coaches, teachers, and the thousands of Pro Football Hall of Fame volunteers. But most interesting was his appreciation for the Green Bay Packers, who celebrated him as ‘owners’.
Mills was posthumously honored for his performance as a member of the “Dome Patrol” linebacking corps in Carolina, where he appeared in the Super Bowl where the Panthers lost to Seymour and the Patriots. His former coach in the USFL, former Saints head coach Jim Mora Sr. and his widow Melanie Mills, accepted his honor while paying tribute to his mantra of “Keep Pounding” and how it was so important to life and his career, overcoming being told he was too small and too old to play in the NFL.
Seymour was the first of this class’s lineman to take the mic. For all the talk and questions about him and the New England Patriots dynasty’s defense getting some acknowledgment for their impact, he opened his speech with a quote of modesty.
“I’m overwhelmed with humility not what this moment says about me, but what is it says about we — and what we can do together. Today is for my family.” He continued his speech by paying tribute to his teammates, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick before talking about what playing for the Raiders meant to him, growing up as a member of Raider Nation. He concluded by talking about how 31 years of football in his life taught him about the importance of stewardship.
McNally, as the first official in the hall, accounted for 50 years of service to the league. Known as the father of instant replay, he was instrumental in fine-tuning the process toward what it is today. He’s also the namesake for the NFL’s annual award started in 2002 by commissioner Paul Tagliabue for officials who exhibit exemplary professionalism, leadership and commitment to sportsmanship. His grandchildren Shannon and Connor O’Hara accepted the 92-year-old’s honor on his behalf.
Quarterback Mark Brunell presented Boselli as the one who reaped the benefits of the amazing tackle’s efforts on the field as the Jaguars’ first inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While his youthful aspirations of being a quarterback were quenched early, the seven-year NFL veteran gave tribute to what he called his extended family, which included his stepfamily as much as those who carried the surname Boselli, as well as his wife Angie. Calls of “Duuuval” filled the venue in answer to him as he paid tribute to the franchise and their ownership as well as Tom Coughlin, who he hinted should be in Canton as well as Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith.
Young was presented for enshrinement by 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and his daughter Kai. Amidst the “thank you”s to “Mr.D”, his wife, and family, he told the story of his overcoming a severe leg injury in 1999 when he won the Comeback Player of the Year. However, it what was easily the most emotional moment he paid tribute to his son Kolby, who recently passed away after fighting brain cancer. Young mentioned that his year of induction — 2022 — was in itself honoring Colby whose favorite number was 22.
The number 22 was followed by 21, Branch’s sister Elaine Anderson and Raiders Owner Mark Davis accepted his honor. Branch’s speed during his 14-year career stretching back to the 60s is a memory that echoes through the walls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, up to and beyond his posthumous enshrinement. His number 21 was a reminder to all opponents of the Raider Nation that “Speed Kills”. This tribute was something the wide receiver loved.
As a turnaround king for all the franchises he coached in 15 seasons that bookended a 12-year broadcasting career, coach Vermeil was the concluding speaker of the ceremony. Best known for presiding over “The Greatest Show on Turf” that won Super Bowl XXXIV for St. Louis, he was presented by Carl Peterson who is a former president of the Kansas City Chiefs. While he’s credited as a signal caller who has made so much impact in the league, his speech was a bullet list of past Pro Football of Fame Inductees and others to whom he felt indebted for his success.